Cured ham has been a staple throughout Europe since (or before) Cato the Elder, a Roman scribe, wrote about it in 300 BC, reports Atlas of taste. The publication also lists other cured hams from the continent: presunto from Portugal; Bayonne ham from France; jabugo, jamon Serrano and four types of jamón Ibérico from Spain; speck from Germanic countries; and Italian prosciutti.
Each ham is different due to regional cultural heritage and terroir – that culmination of climate, geography, flora, fauna and tradition. For example, “speck is made in the mountains of northern Italy, in the Alto Adige/Trentino region,” Besler explains. “It’s smaller and leaner than prosciutto and has a bolder, smokier flavor profile. That’s because the meat is cured with a variety of spices and smoked.” Spanish and Portuguese hams are defined by the free-range black pigs and their diet of rich acorns that flavor their rich, marbled meat. Bayonne ham from southwest France is cured from the salt of a river – the Adour (via Atlas of taste).
“I wouldn’t dare say one is better than the other. These cured hams are all made using specific techniques that result in very different products. Serrano ham, for example, tends to have a more distinct flavor and saltier. Some prefer only the sweeter Italian prosciutto. It’s all a matter of taste! There are excellent national prosciutto being produced, and others of lesser quality”, concludes Besler.